This story was sent by Hugh McElrath to the CHGPA listserv on 02/11/2002.
He describes his first soaring flight, at Jack's Mountain.

Back To First-Flight Tales
CHGPA Homepage

So, guys, it's always that easy, right? Glass smooth, effortless lift, stay up as long as you want? A year and a half after taking a couple of sled rides at Lookout Mountain, I finally got there. The main obstacle was deciding to commit the $$ to buy a glider, harness, helmet, and rack (thanks, Tex!). (With a kid starting college, I was being cautious.) After a failed launch at Bill's back in September, I knew I needed hill work, which was accomplished last weekend at Smithsburg and Long Green (thanks, Richard!). Thanks also to Brian for agreeing to observe - and calling the wind/location perfectly. I had a special choir rehearsal Saturday AM (Alexandria Choral Society - all Purcell concert 9-10 March), but by the time I got the car loaded with rack, glider, etc., I arrived late for rehearsal - so had to leave early to make up for it... The directions to Jack's were from McConnellsburg, so I stopped at the Pulpit just to peek over from launch - can't wait!

Boy, it's a haul all the way to Jack's! Since it was my first time to Jack's, I was taking the directions Matthew had casually dictated over the phone on faith - wasn't even sure I could find the place (thanks, Matthew, the directions were perfect). Arrived at 2:00 to find a gazillion pilots setting up, including Paul and Lauren. Chris Snow had his whole family with him (cute toddler). Brian led us down to the LZ for the shuttle and set up the faithful wind-sock. An early launcher arrived after sinking out and joined us for a body ride back up. I set up - and discovered I had left my wheels at home. Brian was not happy with this, but let me launch on my promise that I always land perfectly (hey, Brian, I got a bridge to sell ya). Some obviously experienced pilots took a long time on launch, but to this inexperienced one everything looked perfect, and Brian confirmed it. Paul was on my left wing saying he felt a lot of lift. Two steps and I went up instead of down. So this is what all the excitement is about!

I have no radio, so Brian and I had agreed on a flight plan for me to stay fairly close to launch on the north (slightly upwind)side where he could keep an eye on me and know where to look for me if I crashed. The choice of the Falcon 195 for my weight (170) was great for these conditions - no vario, so I just concentrated on relaxing the bar whenever I felt lift. Tried to remember to clear my turns, but there must have been something screaming "newby", cause everyone seemed to stay out of MY way. I got way above (my guess: 500-800) the ridge within a few minutes and stayed there for an hour and a half (kept looking at my watch and setting new time goals - it became immediately apparent that as long as I stayed in the lift band, I could stay up as long as I wanted). I set myself some landmarks for limits north and south of the line from launch to LZ - trying to be conservative the first time out. Within ten minutes, my neck was fee! ling the strain from holding my head up - gotta adjust the shoulder lines on my harness. Hands with light gloves got cold too. Could've used the visor on my helmet, which I had removed when I was steaming up while hauling the glider back up at the training hills, but no biggee.

Appreciated the view over the back toward Belleville (I seem to remember there's a VOR there from taking my private pilot exam 25 years ago - but maybe that's a Belleville in Kansas...) Saw Lauren with the lime green Target, but couldn't identify anybody else. Noticed Brian's car wasn't at launch - where did he go? Finally, I noticed that the LZ was in shadow even though the sun still looked pretty high at altitude. The number of gliders in the air was going down and the number at the LZ was growing. Had to wait for a couple of gliders to get ahead of me - needn't have bothered: the Falcon took a long time to get over the LZ. I felt like I was really high and could circle for a while to set up the landing. Got confused by divergent readings from the two wind-socks (guess that means it was light and variable, huh?) and discovered I was lower than I thought. Got wrapped up in a turn low and slow and didn't have enough control authority to pull out of it while upright in the harness. Landed on my feet but whacked the glider. Bent a downtube and a washout tube. ("Wheels? wheels? Don't need no stinking wheels!")

Some guy came out and yelled at me to get my glider out of the middle of the LZ and to show some motion so people wouldn't think I was hurt, then grabbed the glider and ran off with it. I was cold and zoned out from the long flight. The same manic guy straightened the down tube for me on the spot (thank you, kind sir!). Got more impromptu advice from strangers about not landing slow, etc. Also, to inspect my leading edge since the washout tube was bent. I want to do some more aerotow to practice setting up landings from altitude... Also need to get one of those hunter's suits to stay warmer - I wasn't uncomfortable while flying, but I think hypothermia may have slowed my thinking some... Warmed up as I broke down.

No beer allowed at the LZ (lot's of Bible verses on signs around here). Everybody went to the White House tavern for dinner. Enjoyed meeting Paul and Lauren's friends who are in the aerotow training pipeline. Got to meet Chris's family. For the drive home I'm listening to a recorded book of Will Durant's "Story of Civilization" - you know: the 12 volume shelf of books. Given the amount of driving you do in this sport, should be no problem getting through it. But one of the charms of hang-gliding for me is getting out in the beautiful countryside on gorgeous days like Saturday. Also, I didn't realize when I started what a communal activity HG is...

Anyway, got out to Richard's Sunday for a new washout tube and a leading edge inspection. George, Frank and Connie were over at Long Green so Richard encouraged me to set up and take a test flight to make sure the glider was straight. My wife and younger kid are starting to think I don't love them anymore...

Hugh McElrath